With 'Jungle Cruise,' Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt Want to Take You on the Ride of a Lifetime
By John Boone
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To make a movie is to manage a never-ending list of concerns -- especially a big-budget Disney movie poised to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean -- but on the set of Jungle Cruise, there is one thing absolutely no one is worried about: Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt's chemistry.
The movie, based on the beloved Disney attraction, stars Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton, a turn of the century researcher who travels to the Amazon in search of a legendary tree with the ability to cure all known maladies. There, she hires a hapless riverboat skipper named Frank (Johnson), and the two strike up an odd-couple rapport, full of wisecracking wordplay and the possibility of something more.
Sitting side-by-side on a stone wall erected as part of the film's sprawling Hawaii set, Johnson chivalrously holding an umbrella for his co-star amid the ceaseless rain, it's clear that dynamic continues even when the cameras stop rolling. The secret to their onscreen chemistry might be that each genuinely seem to enjoy making the other laugh offscreen, playfully bantering back and forth and egging one another on. If you ask them, they are having "too much fun."
During a break from filming, the duo discuss making the type of movie Hollywood doesn't make anymore, the reason Blunt's 7-year-old daughter fell in love with Johnson and why Jungle Cruise remains his all-time favorite ride.
Emily, you're playing a really badass woman. What does it mean to play this character, not only in this time we're in now but [in the time period of the movie] when she was so ahead of her time?
Dwayne Johnson: Well--
Emily Blunt: No, Dwayne. That one is so not for you. [Laughs] I look for characters that I have an in with. Like, even if they're delusional or crazy, if you have some in with them, that's always the first thing. And there was something about this character -- not that she is delusional or crazy -- she is just so tenacious, exciting, determined, completely free-spirited, kind of weird and a really interesting character. Not the damsel in distress that you would imagine in this kind of genre or the sort of straight lace British person, which I was not wanting to do either.
Dwayne Johnson: Especially at this time.
Emily Blunt: Oh my God, no. No one wants to play British.
Dwayne Johnson: No, I meant time period! Let me clarify.
Emily Blunt: This is why he doesn't want to do interviews with me. Dwayne, that is inappropriate. [Laughs] I think she is very unusual for her time. She is a trailblazer, and I think that that determination and tenacity was really exciting for me.
Speaking of this genre, we've heard this script isn't exactly action/adventure, and it has a lot of twists. How does it differentiate itself from the action genre? And what about the script drew you to it?
Emily Blunt: I think there are a lot of films that have tried to emulate films like Romancing the Stone -- everyone's like, "Oh yeah, we're making Romancing the Stone" -- and it never is that. It's never that film. And I think that this film has those qualities, but it's got qualities that are sort of supernatural, similar to Pirates of the Caribbean. It's a huge action-packed film, a lot of practically-shot, big Hollywood--
Dwayne Johnson: Kissing.
Emily Blunt: What?!
Dwayne Johnson: No?
Emily Blunt: None! There's none.
Dwayne Johnson: Sh*t!
Emily Blunt: There's also that at some point -- perhaps -- but at the core of it is this relationship, this unlikely duo, this unlikely couple who initially rub each other the wrong way and drive each other insane. But there's this chemistry between them and this rapport between them that was so attractive to me when I read the script. It was so nostalgic, and I just don't think people are making these sort of films which feel uncynical and fun and big. And it's not a superhero movie.
Dwayne Johnson: Respectfully.
Emily Blunt: It's OK, I can say that. You can't. You're much nicer than me.
Dwayne, you have another jungle-themed franchise right now.
Emily Blunt: What?! Oh, you and Kevin Hart. That's right.
How do you make sure that this one is different and special from the jungle movie you've already done?
Dwayne Johnson: It's different in so many ways. We got lucky with Jumanji. We made a good movie that a good amount of people liked and it did well. That's always the fun challenge about making movies like this, whether they're jungle-themed or "jungle" is in the title.
Emily Blunt: Dwayne's only making jungle movies from now on.
Dwayne Johnson: Jungle everything, yes. Jungle and the Furious, we'll start with that. Jungleback Mountain is going to be... [Laughs]
You're changing it up though. You're in khakis this time!
Dwayne Johnson: That's it, changing it up. But it's very different. Leaning into what Emily was talking about, about the adventure, about the fun, about the romance, the movies that truly inspired this movie were Romancing the Stone, certainly Pirates of the Caribbean -- because we have an opportunity here to make a movie based off an iconic Disney ride that has been beloved for generations and generations -- and there's The African Queen as well. These movies aren't made that often. People try, and sometimes they talk about making movies like Romancing the Stone. Well, this is that kind of movie. And certainly, what separates this from not only a Jumanji but from anything else I've ever done and from every other movie out there is the Disney brand--
Emily Blunt: Careful, Kevin Hart is going to be so mad you said that.
Dwayne Johnson: It's all right. He can't read, so he won't be. [Laughs]
We heard that Jungle Cruise is your favorite attraction.
Emily Blunt: It's because he likes the cheesy skipper, that's why.
And now you are the cheesy skipper! How much additional research did you do into the attraction and the history of it? And are you hoping to one day be an animatronic on the ride?
Emily Blunt: I'm actually going to show up in person. That's going to be my next gig. That's going to be my forever gig.
Dwayne Johnson: At the end of the ride Emily is going to be there.
Emily Blunt: I'm going to be 93 and still there. Just--
Dwayne Johnson: Smoking.
Emily Blunt: Totally.
Dwayne Johnson: "Who's that? That's Emily Blunt."
Emily Blunt: In these very high-waisted pants [with] a huge belt. This belt, I can't even tell you how hard it is to, you know, go to the bathroom. Moving on. Next question.
Do you remember why you first fell in love with the ride?
Dwayne Johnson: Yes. I'm so sorry and I am going to answer your question. We often just go off on tangents. Well, I love Disney and the very first time I was able to go to Disney, I was 26 years old. This was Disney down in Orlando. I had always dreamed about going to Disney, we just never took family vacations when I was a kid. I finally went, I fell in love with the ride just like I fell in love with the park, and years later, we have this really amazing opportunity that I'm really grateful for. And in terms of the research, the research was deep, man. But that was the fun part about doing a movie like this, where you're able to go and you're able to not only meet with executives but then you're able to go spend time with the Imagineers, who are a very special, very creative group, and go into the vaults of Disney. As you may know or may not know, Jungle Cruise was a high priority for Walt when he opened the park in 1955, and he was the very first skipper. So, for us, it's pretty cool.
What makes a great Disney film? And how does this film play into the equation?
Dwayne Johnson: Good question. Em?
Emily Blunt: Wow. What makes a great Disney movie? It is my third. I will say the process of working with Disney is so thrilling. Because they're a studio that is doing so well and they're winning, they have such confidence in what they do. They allow for such exciting projects that think outside the box [and] that carve out new space for themselves. They're not derivative of other films. They're not fearful films. And that's really exciting for us, because throughout our whole experience, we're given the opportunity to create something completely individual. I found that on Mary Poppins [Returns]. That even though we pay homage to the original, it's very much the next chapter. It's courageous in that way, to be able to stand alone without even seeing the first one, if you don't want to -- which you're insane because you should all see it.
Dwayne Johnson: Wait till you see this one.
Emily Blunt: But I think that the experience for me and I know for Dwayne as well, is just really personal and it feels really exciting. Disney films are those films that are seared into your nostalgia. Certainly, as a child, I have such lasting memories of Disney movies. Those were the films I grew up watching, and so it's completely surreal to be now in a few of them. It's just madness, really.
Dwayne Johnson: A few little ones.
Emily Blunt: Just a few of the smaller ones.
Dwayne Johnson: When you step on a set like this -- we had heard that the set was spectacular for months as they were building it. But when we finally stepped on set together, we were just blown away, very inspired, had goosebumps. It's an incredible set. I think you combine this kind of set, this story and as Emily so eloquently talked about Disney, what they bring to the table in terms of movies and trust with audiences and families worldwide, regardless of culture [and] class. When you make a good Disney movie, there's heart. It's universal. There's fun, there's adventure and there's a good lesson as well.
Have you had a chance to bring your family to see these incredible sets?
Emily Blunt: Yeah, my oldest daughter's come and seen it. I mean, God knows what she thinks I do for a living, honestly. I think she's probably like, "What do you do?" because her version of films are animated. So, I think she's just starting to understand--
Dwayne Johnson: You can go ahead and tell everyone who her favorite is.
Emily Blunt: Hazel loves Moana and had a Moana-themed birthday party. And someone was kind enough to send a little video to Hazel. So, Hazel is so in love with Dwayne now. She's like a fan girl. It's a little bit embarrassing.
Dwayne Johnson: Like her mom. [Laughs]
What would you say has been the greatest individual challenge in the making of this movie?
Dwayne Johnson: Professionalism.
Emily Blunt: Dwayne's attitude and sort of work ethic. A lot of people talk about it. I've been one. [Laughs] But I don't know. I haven't found anything challenging so far. I'm having the time of my life. Honestly, it's like a vacation right now. I can't be like, "Oh, and it's really hard when" -- I have nothing to offer. I have literally nothing.
Dwayne Johnson: It's a dream come true. This is a dream come true kind of movie. You hope to get lucky in your career with a movie like this, and we did. And the crew is great. We've assembled this tremendous crew, and I think when you read the script and the crew comes together the way they have and all the department heads and everybody, producers, actors, everybody--
Emily Blunt: People want to be here. It's just really lovely.
Jungle Cruise is in theaters and available on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30.